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Archive for August, 2011


Many years ago the SETI@home project was born. I think the idea came from some earlier projects that harnessed people’s computers when they were idle to calculate Pi to a new record. SETI@home sifted through radio telescope data for signals from ET. The amount of data was huge, the calculations more so. The answer was to use distributed computing: you signed up and then when your computer was idle it worked on a small part of the problem, The SETI@home project then put the bits together and managed the entire dataset. The idea took off, lots of people joined and then some new projects arose, all needing vast amounts of computing power.

Then software changed and I lost track of this, until a week or so ago when SETI@home sent me an e-mail. Now they use the open source BOINC platform, which you download onto your computer. You then choose a project(s) you would like to contribute to and that is it.

So far I am very impressed by BOINC. Seamless and does not get in the way at all – in fact it is quite “retiring” in terms of using processor time.

So which problem(s)? A matter of taste, though SETI@home captures my imagination. Happily, one can contribute to more than one and with our computers doing virtually nothing most of the time (writing this consumes very little of the resource of my laptop).

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Building on the existing Pancreatic Biomedical Research Unit, Prof. Robert Sutton has successfully led a proposal for a new NIHR Biomedical Research Unit, focussed on acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. NIHR have agreed to fund this translational research effort at the level of £1.3 M a year for 5 years. Prof. Sutton somehow managed to cross all the disciplinary boundaries (from bionanotechnology to clinical trials) that separated him and his cohort of co-investigators and pulled together a very strong proposal. After review by an International panel of experts, NIHR came to the conclusion that the proposal met its criteria for funding, which are based on excellence in seven areas:
1. The quality, volume and breadth of internationally-excellent biomedical and translational research
and researchers;

2. Existing research capacity, and plans for increasing capacity including training;

3. The strength of the forward strategic plan and ability to generate a step-change in capacity to
undertake experimental research in the relevant priority area;

4. The relevance of the research portfolio to the health of patients and the public;

5. The track record in translating advances in basic biomedical research into clinical research, and
pulling through basic biomedical research findings into benefits for patients, the public and the
NHS;

6. The strength of the strategic partnerships, including those with industry and other NIHR-funded
research Infrastructure;

7. Value for money.

The impact of acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer is severe and large numbers of people die from these diseases. They are difficult to diagnose and it is difficult to predict how badly patients will be affected. There is a complete lack of drug treatments for pancreatitis and shortage of drugs for pancreatic cancer. Liverpool University has the largest research programme in pancreatic diseases in the UK, partnering the largest pancreatic digestive diseases service, at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust, where there are excellent facilities for safe clinical research. There is also a strong track record of working with industry and working with other leading clinical centres on new tests, new methods to see inside the human body and developing new treatments. The new Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit in Liverpool will build on our previous Unit to give clinical research in this area a real chance of major success, by translating research advances into improved patient care. Once new tests and new treatments are shown to work, they must then be developed further by industry to provide to the wider world, to the benefit of both the health and wealth of the country.

Now for the exciting part, putting our plans into action!

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